Law Enforcers Discuss Police Pursuit Policy - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

12/10/03

Law Enforcers Discuss Police Pursuit Policy

Crimes like bank robberies can sometimes result in a high speed police pursuit. And those chases can turn dangerous or even deadly.

In South Mississippi alone, some three dozen people have been killed in the past four years as the result of a police pursuit.

The state legislature appointed a commission to look at the possibility of adopting some sort of standardized police pursuit policy.

Most police agencies along the coast have formal policies. But many of the smaller departments throughout the state, do not. WLOX News talked with Biloxi's police chief and the Harrison County sheriff about whether there's a need for some type of standardized policy statewide.

A police chase Sunday involving six law enforcement agencies, began on Canal Road in Gulfport and ended near Ocean Springs when the driver lost control and crashed his SUV into a ditch.

"It's about command and control. It's about training. But one of the biggest problems is communications inter operability. Some of the smaller counties and cities can't communicate with each other," said Harrison County sheriff, George Payne.

Harrison County, like most police departments along the coast, has a written pursuit policy. That helped with the weekend chase.

"So we had good communications. We had good command and control. Didn't have a problem. And had a lot of traffic on the road," said Sheriff Payne.

Traffic conditions are among the many factors that could affect decisions made in a police pursuit. Trying to catch a fleeing suspect on busy Pass Road, could become dangerous more easily on a mostly rural road, like Highway 15 in Harrison County.

"You can't write a policy to cover every single situation," said Biloxi police chief, Bruce Dunagan.

Chief Dunagan says, under the best circumstances, every agency should have a written pursuit policy. But policies can't dictate every situation. Police officers and their supervisors will face critical decisions when a chase happens.

"What are we pursuing? What's it for? Where is it? What speeds? What traffic conditions? What's the weather? And then he's got to make a decision at that point, he or she, whether to terminate or allow them to go on," Chief Dunagan explained.

Sheriff Payne says there probably won't be a standardized pursuit policy applying to all law enforcement agencies in Mississippi.

"But I do think though that there needs to be some kind of mandate that you have some type of policy. We have some good policies here. If you notice, we very rarely have any major problems because we have good command and control," said Sheriff Payne.

The legislative commission that's studying police pursuit policy is looking for input. The City of Biloxi is hosting a public hearing Thursday afternoon.

It's from one until three o'clock in the auditorium of the Martin Luther King building downtown.

By Steve Phillips

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